Friday, September 26, 2008

Put a necktie on your cat when it's job-hunting

The State of Missouri has set up a recruiting site and job fair on Second Life. They recently made their first hire, an IT employee. The employee first appeared at the virtual job fair as a "small cat with a red bow tie." Perhaps because of the cat's tie, he got an in-person interview (no report on what he wore) and then got the job. The moral of this story is to be sure your avatar wears business attire (to the extent possible, given the avatar) to any virtual job fairs.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It's National Punctuation Day!

Today is National Punctuation Day -- see!

Within that post is a link to an article that will cause heart palpitations in any lawyers you know who deal with contracts: an extra comma in a contract resulted in an increased charge of 2.13 million (Canadian) dollars to one of the parties. I hope whoever typed/word-processed that contract for the party getting the extra money got a bonus of some sort.

If you're looking for an appropriate way to celebrate, try making this resolution: I will not automatically put an apostrophe before the final 's' in a word, unless it indicates a contraction, or a possessive. (Yes, such a resolution is legal.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Did Larry Ellison Listen to Me?

On September 27, 2007, I did a post in which I suggested, moderately facetiously, that server farms, which consume large amounts of electricity, might offer free or almost-free gymn services to the surrounding population, so the exercise bikes in use could generate some power for the server farms.

Today the SF Chronicle has a story about Oracle OpenWorld, Oracle's annual customer conference in San Francisco (see In an effort to be a bit greener, there will be exercise bikes available that, when used, will generate the power to charge the user's laptop or cell phone (or, I guess, both.) "If they peddle hard enough, these folks will generate extra energy that Oracle will capture and use to help power the conference."

I am all aflutter at the thought that Larry Ellison might have read my blogpost -- hope he also read the November 16, 2007 post where I thanked Oracle for providing free museum admissions to the public at large during that year's conference. (Mr. Ellison: any chance of repeating that next year?) Or maybe, like me, he just got the idea from the dystopian movie Soylent Green, in which Edward G. Robinson peddles a bike to generate a bit of electricity to light a small lamp. (Let's hope the rest of that movie isn't coming true.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mr. and Mrs. Famous Male Author

Yesterday I received the Fall issue of Fiat Lux, the quarterly newsletter from the UC Berkeley Library Development Office.

As usual, it included a chatty one-page "letter" -- i.e., essay -- by Thomas C. Leonard, who holds the title Kenneth and Dorothy Hill University Librarian. Titled "Hauling it: how donors help" it started with a one-paragraph story about "a northern husband and his southern wife" who in the 1830s schlepped (that's my word, not his) discarded newspapers from "an exclusive reading room in New York City" to New Jersey. They searched those southern newspapers for information on how slaves were treated, and, ultimately, produced American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, published by the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1839. Mr. Leonard comments and, finally, reveals the name of at least one person in this saga: "By collecting the slave owners' horrifying words about how they treated slaves, Theodore Dwight Weld and his wife changed the national debate."

The emphasis in the preceding quote is mine. Just who was his wife? The noted abolitionist and women's rights advocate, Angelina Emily Grimke. (Note: those are links to three different sites.)She only lost her identity, at least in Mr. Leonard's mind, in 1838, when she married Weld. She has a lengthy list of publications to her name, including an essay -- termed "testimony" -- in American Slavery As It Is.

So, in a year when we have both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin managing to run for high political office with their own names, not as Mrs. William Clinton (as he now likes to be called) and Mrs. Todd Palin, we still have Mr. Leonard, who, I note, does not hold the title of Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Hill Librarian, not quite managing to name the "little woman" who helped Mr. Weld.

Ironically, the next paragraph starts with "At Berkeley, libraries today are the places a new generation goes to find what their society has overlooked or not properly valued." Thanks to Mr. Leonard, some of us don't have to go to the library at all to find that out.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Darwin Awards for Galveston Residents

Let's give a Darwin award to each person who, with Hurricane Ike bearing down, is staying in Galveston, despite: a mandatory evacuation order; anticipated waves of 22 feet -- or, in a different number base, Galveston sea wall height + 5 feet; storm surges of 20 feet -- or, ditto, sea wall height + 3 feet. See any online news stories for those factoids and mentions of those staying; I've been following it on

Let's also send a prayer for the 1,000 or so prisoners in the Galveston county jail, and their jailors, who as of this morning, September 12, had not been evacuated, according to the Houston Chronicle -- try to find the story: a link doesn't seem to work.

And, after the storm, let's give multiple copies of Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, by Erik Larson to whatever remains of the Galveston Public Library, with a suggestion that future residents be required to read once a year Larson's chronicle of the 1900 hurricane that destroyed most of Galveston.

Monday, September 8, 2008

We have met the enemy, and, once again, he is us

On the rare occasions when a religious building is destroyed in northern California (perhaps in a major earthquake, or by fire) there is almost always a follow-up story in the newspapers about that congregation's religious leader telling them that while the building was destroyed, the [church/synagogue/mosque] exists, because the congregation, not the building, is, in fact, the [church/synagogue/mosque.]

I was reminded of that by the negative references at the Republican National Convention about community organizers. Community has an rich etymology (that's word history, not insect science) that embraces fellowship, the public, shared by all or many, and fellow-townspeople. We can use community to mean an entire political entity (a town or city) but it can also mean any group with common interests or goals -- say, a national political party, or a local group formed for any purpose.

In 2000 Robert D. Putnam wrote "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community." The title came from statistics showing that while bowling remained popular, the number of those bowling in leagues had greatly declined. Overall, the book points out, Americans were "investing" their time less and less in "social capital," the activities among people that lead them to think of themselves as part of a community of persons, as opposed to a simple political entity. We've all seen it: a chapter of a fraternal order closes due to declining membership; two houses of worship merge; a club just stops meeting.

The new United States citizenship test that will take effect in October of this year includes as question 55 "What are two ways that Americans can participate in their democracy?" The list of possible answers includes "join a civic group; join a community group; give an elected official your opinion on an issue; publicly support or oppose an issue or policy." Community organizers help people to create those groups: civic or community. Some organizers help people unite to work with local officials -- the Neighborhood Watch programs encouraged by law enforcement are one example. Other organizers help people come to together to "talk to power" at the local level by expressing opinions on issues, or supporting or opposing an issue or policy -- a process that can also be called "fighting city hall." Maybe that's what two former mayors had in mind when they bemoaned community organizers at the Republican National convention. Maybe they should take a look at the citizenship examination.

(Title is from a Pogo cartoon.)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Tsunami Sarah

The choice of Sarah Palin as the Republican party's vice-presidential candidate has had a major impact on the city offices in Wasilla, Alaska, the town of which she was mayor before becoming governor of Alaska. I worked for many years in city administration for two California cities: one with a population of about 35,000 at the time, and one with about 100,000. Even towns of those two sizes would have been hard-put to deal with the tsunami-like surge of calls, emails, letters, and faxes that have hit Wasilla, with a current population of 7,025, per the city's website. I suspect that city residents trying to call city hall are having a hard time getting through.

The city has swung into action amazingly quickly, seeking to provide information while not returning calls due to the insufficiency of funds budgeted for telephone service. As of Thursday, September 4th (the first day I checked,) the city's home page has as its first heading a link to "Questions and answers about former mayor Palin." Click on that to go to the page that mentions the lack of funds for telephone calls. More importantly, it also includes information on how to contact the current mayor (and a reminder that she still has to do her normal job); a link to information about public records requests; and "Document Central," a set of links that starts with "City documents -- recently requested -- former Mayor Palin." Someone has done a very impressive job with very little lead time -- I wonder how the overtime budget is holding up. Kudos to all the Wasilla staff that worked on getting the info up.

Hasty reading on my part missed the fact that to find "Banned or Censured Books Response" one must click on "City documents -- recently requested -- former Mayor Palin" in Document Central; I clicked on library in that list instead, and just got a map. But that's my fault, not theirs. Clicking correctly just got the policy on requests to remove books, but that's fine as a quick start. Maybe no reports were made to the city council on requests. Maybe more will be forthcoming.

The city's speedy response reminded me of something said at a disaster preparedness workshop at one city I worked at: when your city has been hit by a major disaster, and everyone is scrambling with all their might to respond to people injured, dead, and dying, not to mention trying to protect survivors and property, you have to save some people to respond to the politicians who will descend upon your town for photo ops to show how caring they are. I think of that whenever an elected official flies in to view a disaster scene. Wasilla isn't in quite that same position, but it may feel like it: everyone's trying to get their jobs done, then the world starts calling/faxing/emailing for info. Again, good job Wasilla.